Indeed, if all you're asking from your small office/home office (SOHO) servers is basic file and printer sharing, then any modern server Linux will do the job. Indeed, in the smallest of offices, you may already be using Linux without even knowing it. Many Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices that double as USB print servers, such as the Buffalo LinkStation Pro line, use Linux to provide file and print services. For a small office, this may all the Linux you need.
But what if you need something in between? You know you need more than basic file and print services, but you don't want to pay someone to be a server administrator. You could fill that role, but you'd rather spend your time working on your business instead of your server. Is there a Linux for you?
You betcha. Over the years, there have been many turnkey Linux distributions. With these, you install the Linux on your server -- maybe just an old desktop PC that's a little too creaky for regular use anymore -- or buy an appliance and use a single interface to run the whole show. Some of the best of the current generation of install-and-forget Linux servers are ClearOS (which we looked at a few years back) and Zentyal.
Let's say that you don't need a general-purpose server. You have just one job, besides file and print, that needs to be done. You don't want the trouble of maintaining a full server just for that one task, whether it be providing an e-mail server, a content management system, or a Domain Name System (DNS) server. Can you still use Linux? Yep.
Over the years there have been many "do one job and do it well" Linux server distributions. Of these, the ones that are still around that I like best are TurnKey Linux, which is based on Ubuntu server; rPath, which was created by some of Red Hat's founders; and the SUSE Appliance Program.
TurnKey Linux uses an older Ubuntu Linux, 8.04, for its foundation. Don't let the age fool you; for most business purposes, that will work just fine. TurnKey Linux offers over 45 single-purpose applications. These include a variety of content management systems, such as Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress; communication systems, including Zimbra e-mail and ejabberd instant messaging; and basic office servers such as a file server and a primary domain controller for Windows networks. You can deploy these on standalone servers, as virtual machines, or on the Amazon cloud.
rPath is for companies that already have their own in-house enterprise applications and want to move them to the cloud. Instead of simply offering you common, ready-to-go Linux applications, rPath specializes in taking what you already have in-house and pushing it from a server-centric model to an often more affordable cloud model.
The SUSE Appliance Program offers a plan similar to what you get with TurnKey Linux. But, instead of simply offering a set of common server applications, it uses SUSE Studio, the core, online Linux application builder and SUSE Linux Enterprise JeOS (Just Enough Operating System) to enable you or an independent software vendors (ISV) to pick and choose the components you want in a Linux server.
Unlike TurnKey though, SUSE's Applications also offers vendor enterprise applications with their full support. These include Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite software, an integrated J2EE server solution; multiple IBM plug and play appliances for small and medium businesses; and Messaging Architects' M+Guardian, a policy-based e-mail security solution. As with TurnKey, though, you can deploy these applications in many ways: on virtual machines, on the Amazon cloud, and on dedicated hardware platforms.
Perhaps the most popular kind of server is one running the Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP/Python/Perl combo known as LAMP. These servers power most of the world's Web servers, and they also provide most of the world's e-mail and other Internet services. If you're using a Web hosting company for your Web site, chances are you're using CentOS Linux. This is a low-cost RHEL clone.